Actions Taken Regarding the Five-Week Wait for Universal Credit

Cabinet Office Nid oedd gan y wybodaeth y gofynnwyd amdani.

Dear Cabinet Office,

I am writing to make a formal request for information under the Freedom of Information Act 2000. My enquiry pertains to the actions of your office concerning the minimum five-week waiting period for the first Universal Credit payment—a subject of considerable public interest. A separate FoI request on this matter has already been issued to the DWP pertaining to any information they may hold.

To ensure compliance with the cost limitations set forth by the Act, I have narrowed my request to the following key questions:

1 What specific measures has your office undertaken to alleviate the detrimental impact of the five-week waiting period on Universal Credit claimants?

2 Has your office evaluated or acted upon recommendations from external bodies, such as the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, to mitigate the hardships associated with the five-week waiting period? If so, could you summarise this from your recorded information?

Public Interest Statement: The disclosure of this information serves the public interest by shedding light on your office's openness to external expertise in refining the Universal Credit system. This is especially pertinent given the extensive public discourse and media scrutiny surrounding the challenges posed by the five-week waiting period.

While we acknowledge that this question may intersect with exemptions under Section 35 of the FOI Act, we clarify that our intent is not to uncover early-stage policy formulation but to ascertain whether the Department is receptive to external input.

3 Is the government cognisant of the need to reassess or modify the existing five-week waiting period for Universal Credit? If affirmative, could you summarise this from your recorded information?

Public Interest Statement: The release of this information is crucial for public discourse, as it would indicate whether the government acknowledges the need for reform in the Universal Credit system, particularly concerning the five-week wait. This information is vital for the electorate to make an informed decision in future general elections.

We understand that this question might be subject to exemptions under Section 35, but our focus is on gauging the government's awareness of the issue, rather than exposing preliminary policy ideas. We are prepared to vigorously argue for the release of this information if it is deemed exempt, as the public has a right to know whether the government comprehends the challenges created by the five-week waiting period.

I anticipate a response within the statutory 20 working days as stipulated by the Act. Please acknowledge receipt of this request in writing.

Thank you for your attention to this important matter. I look forward to your timely response.

Yours faithfully,

Amanda Hart
for Stop UK Lies and Corruption

Gadawodd Amanda Hart anodiad ()

Please also see this link: https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/a...

FOI Team Mailbox, Cabinet Office

Dear Amanda Hart,

Thank you for your email.

Unfortunately your email does not constitute a valid request for
information as outlined in section 8(1)(c) of the Freedom of Information
Act 2000. The Act does not require public authorities to create new
information or to provide opinion or explanation in order to respond to a
request or query. The purpose of the Act is to consider the confirmation
or provision of recorded information that already exists. Advice on how to
make a valid request can be accessed on the Information Commissioner’s
website at: [1]https://ico.org.uk/for-the-public/offici...

Alternatively, if you would like your email treated as correspondence, you
can contact the Cabinet Office by accessing its web form at the following
website: [2]https://www.gov.uk/guidance/contact-the-...

Yours sincerely,

Freedom of Information Team

Cabinet Office

dangos adrannau a ddyfynnir

Dear Cabinet Office,

Please pass this on to the person who conducts Freedom of Information reviews.

I am writing to request an internal review of Cabinet Office's handling of my FOI request 'Actions Taken Regarding the Five-Week Wait for Universal Credit'.

I am writing to request an internal review regarding the handling of my Freedom of Information request dated 27th October 2023. Your response dated 30th October 2023 stated that my request does not constitute a valid request for information under section 8(1)(c) of the Freedom of Information Act 2000. I respectfully disagree.

My request explicitly seeks recorded information held by the Cabinet Office on specific questions related to the five-week waiting period for Universal Credit payments. Section 1(1) of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 states that any person making a request for information is entitled to be informed whether the public authority holds information of the description specified in the request. My questions are framed to elicit this very type of recorded information.

To reiterate, the key questions are:

1 What specific measures has your office undertaken to alleviate the detrimental impact of the five-week waiting period on Universal Credit claimants?

2 Has your office evaluated or acted upon recommendations from external bodies, such as the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, to mitigate the hardships associated with the five-week waiting period?

3 Is the government cognisant of the need to reassess or modify the existing five-week waiting period for Universal Credit?

Each of these questions is designed to elicit the release of recorded information that should already exist, given the public and governmental focus on the issue of Universal Credit and the five-week waiting period.

I kindly request that you conduct an internal review of the decision to deem my original request as invalid. Should you continue to assert that my request is invalid, I am prepared to escalate this matter to the Information Commissioner's Office for further scrutiny into the Cabinet Office's ability to recognise valid requests for information under the Freedom of Information Act.

I anticipate a response within the statutory 20 working days as stipulated by the Act, counting from the receipt of this request for an internal review.

Thank you for your attention to this matter. I look forward to your timely response.

A full history of my FOI request and all correspondence is available on the Internet at this address: https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/a...

Yours faithfully,

Amanda Hart
for Stop UK lies and corruption.

FOI Team Mailbox, Cabinet Office

Dear Amanda Hart

Thank you for your email.

Unfortunately your email does not constitute a valid request for
information as outlined in section 8(1)(c) of the Freedom of Information
Act 2000. The Act does not require public authorities to create new
information or to provide opinion or explanation in order to respond to a
request or query. The purpose of the Act is to consider the confirmation
or provision of recorded information that already exists. Advice on how to
make a valid request can be accessed on the Information Commissioner’s
website at: [1]https://ico.org.uk/for-the-public/offici...

Alternatively, if you would like your email treated as correspondence, you
can contact the Cabinet Office by accessing its web form at the following
website: [2]https://www.gov.uk/guidance/contact-the-...

Yours sincerely,

Freedom of Information Team

Cabinet Office

dangos adrannau a ddyfynnir

Dear FOI Team Mailbox,

Thanks for your response to our request for an internal review which we shall interpret as your official internal review response. As such the matter shall now be taken up with the Information Commissioner's Office.

Kind regards
Amanda Hart

Gadawodd Amanda Hart anodiad ()

Reported to ICO.

Gadawodd Amanda Hart anodiad ()

ICO have assigned code IC-267543-K5H2 and asked the office to respond within 20 working days.

Cabinet Office FOI Team,

Our ref: FOI2023/13357

Dear Amanda Hart,

Thank you for your request for information which was received on 27th
October. Questions 1 and 2 are being handled under the terms of the
Freedom of Information Act 2000 ('the Act').

The Act requires that a response must be given promptly, and in any event
within 20 working days. We will therefore aim to reply at the latest by
24th November.

Please remember to quote the reference number above in any future
communications.

Yours sincerely,

Freedom of Information Team

Cabinet Office

Dear Cabinet Office,

Your ref: FOI2023/13357

Thanks for your response which you have made following instruction from the ICO. Please refer to a section from our correspondence with the ICO in relation to question 3. We would be willing to take this matter to tribunal if necessary because it is critical for the law to be obeyed.

"When we submitted the request pertaining to part 3, our expectation was that the officer would search for examples of discussions on this matter and provide us with a few samples of the responses made by government ministers. We believed that this was a reasonable and feasible task for them to undertake. We maintain that our request was sufficiently worded to allow for requests for clarification on any parts that may have presented challenges. Thus, the blanket refusal of the entire request, on the grounds of its perceived invalidity, was both unhelpful and unacceptable.

It is crucial to note that we cannot read the minds of the authorities. Our ability to assist them is contingent upon the information they convey to us. Given that the Cabinet Office's response provided limited insight and merely stated the request was invalid, we were left without knowledge of any specific issues beyond the fact that the request was framed as questions. Given our understanding that we can indeed frame our requests as questions, and assuming the Cabinet Office shared this understanding, we concentrated our request for an internal review on the point they raised to demonstrate our intent to seek recorded information. Had the Cabinet Office given any indication that they had difficulties with any part of the request beyond its format, we would have addressed those concerns promptly.

The Cabinet Office's response, consisting of a copied and pasted blanket refusal in response to our request for an internal review, should raise concerns at the ICO. This response fails to provide any indication of specific issues with any part of the request, going beyond an outright rejection of the entire request. It effectively conveys a message of "Go away," rather than engaging constructively. Consequently, it should be evident that the Cabinet Office has not complied with the law. Had they adhered to legal obligations and engaged with us, especially under their Section 16 obligation, we would have addressed any concerns they may have had."

"..it falls upon the ICO to inform the Cabinet Office when they fail to comply. Specifically, this means that it is the ICO's duty to instruct the Cabinet Office on their failure to comply with respect to part 3, just as you have done with parts 1 and 2."

Yours faithfully,

Amanda Hart
for Stop UK lies and Corruption.

FOI Team Mailbox, Cabinet Office

Dear Amanda Hart,
Thank you for your email.
It is our view that Question 3 is not a valid request for information and
the ICO agrees with our approach. 
Your request does not satisfy the criteria set out but section 8(1)(c) of
the Freedom of Information Act 2000 nor the guidance set out by the
ICO: [1]https://ico.org.uk/for-organisations/foi...
If you would like for us to treat question 3 as correspondence, please let
us know and we can forward this to the relevant team.

Alternatively, you can do this directly by accessing the Cabinet Office
web form at the following
website: [2]https://www.gov.uk/guidance/contact-the-...

Kind regards,

Freedom of Information Team

Cabinet Office

dangos adrannau a ddyfynnir

Gadawodd Amanda Hart anodiad ()

We do not agree with the Cabinet Office or the ICO on this occasion but in order to obtain the information we seek we have reworded question 3 here:
https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/r...

Dear FOI Team Mailbox,

I appreciate your prompt response dated 17th November, reference IC-267543-K5H2.

It is imperative to bring to your attention that there exist well-established precedents in tribunal cases wherein authorities have been instructed to actively engage with individuals who have submitted Freedom of Information requests. It is our firm belief that such cases set a clear precedent against a blanket refusal, such as the one provided in your initial response. Furthermore, the mere act of copying and pasting this refusal in response to our request for internal review is likely to draw significant scrutiny from the relevant authorities.

Yours faithfully,

Amanda Hart.

Cabinet Office FOI Team,

1 Atodiad

Dear Amanda Hart,

Please find attached our response to your recent Freedom of Information
request (reference FOI2023/13357).

Yours sincerely,

Freedom of Information Team

Cabinet Office

Dear Cabinet Office,

Thank you for your response dated 24th November 2023 regarding FOI Reference: FOI2023/13357. We are glad to see you have included all questions in there which means you have complied with the FoIA thus far.
As you have stated our request would exceed cost limitations under Section 12(2) of the Freedom of Information Act 2000, we propose a more general refinement to our original request.

To align with the cost limitations, we are adjusting our request as follows:

(A) Narrowed Time Frame: Please focus your searches for all information requested below between 1st January 2023 and 30th June 2023. This should limit the amount of data that needs to be searched.

(B) Generalised Questions:

Regarding Measures to Alleviate Impact (originally Question 1):
We request any executive summaries or final briefs prepared by the Cabinet Office within the specified period. Specifically, we are interested in documents that outline any immediate actions, short-term strategies, or policy considerations that have been implemented or proposed during this period to support claimants affected by the five-week assessment period for Universal Credit. We do not seek detailed policy documents or initial drafts but rather the finalised summaries or conclusions that provide an overview of the measures considered or enacted.

On External Recommendations (originally Question 2): We seek any executive summaries, final briefs, or minutes of meetings that discuss the Cabinet Office’s evaluations or actions taken specifically upon recommendations from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (or similar bodies) concerning mitigating hardships associated with the five-week assessment period for Universal Credit, within the specified period.

Public Interest Statement covering the above: The disclosure of this information serves the public interest by shedding light on your office's openness to external expertise in refining the Universal Credit system. This is especially pertinent given the extensive public discourse and media scrutiny surrounding the challenges posed by the five-week waiting period.

Awareness of the Need for Modification (originally Question 3): We specifically request any finalised executive summaries, position papers, or briefs prepared within the specified period that reflect on or suggest a reassessment or modification of this five-week assessment period for Universal Credit. We are particularly interested in documents that indicate a recognition of the challenges posed by the period and any proposed or considered changes, whether they are incremental adjustments or comprehensive overhauls. This request excludes preliminary drafts or detailed policy analyses but focuses on finalised summaries that encapsulate the Cabinet Office’s position or proposed action during this timeframe.

Public Interest Statement: The release of this information is crucial for public discourse, as it would indicate whether the government acknowledges the need for reform in the Universal Credit system, particularly concerning the five-week wait. This information is vital for the electorate to make an informed decision in future general elections.

We believe this refined request, with a limited timeframe and a focus on summarised documents rather than extensive policy details, should meet the cost limitations. Please confirm receipt of this request and we anticipate a response within the statutory 20 working days.

Thank you for your attention to this important matter.

Yours faithfully,

Amanda Hart
for Stop UK Lies and Corruption

Cabinet Office FOI Team,

Our ref: FOI2023/13834

Dear Amanda Hart,

Thank you for your request for information which was received on 24th
November. Your request is being handled under the terms of the Freedom of
Information Act 2000 ('the Act').

The Act requires that a response must be given promptly, and in any event
within 20 working days. We will therefore aim to reply at the latest by
27th December.

Please remember to quote the reference number above in any future
communications.

Yours sincerely,

Freedom of Information Team

Cabinet Office

Cabinet Office FOI Team,

1 Atodiad

Dear Amanda Hart,

Please find attached our response to your recent Freedom of Information
request (reference FOI2023/13834).

Yours sincerely,

Freedom of Information Team

Cabinet Office

Dear Cabinet Office,

Ref: FOI2023 13834 dated 27th December 2023.

Just a short communication to thank you for your response. We are now satisfied that the Cabinet Office has complied with the law in this case.

Yours faithfully,
Amanda Hart

Gadawodd Amanda Hart anodiad ()

We have requested that the ICO conducts a review into its own handling of this case in relation to our question 3.

Undermining the Purpose of FOIA: The purpose of the FOIA is to make governmental operations more transparent and accessible to the public. Section 16 is integral to this, as it ensures that requesters receive the necessary guidance to access information. By not holding the Cabinet Office accountable for its Section 16 obligations, the ICO is not just overlooking a procedural lapse; it's failing to uphold the fundamental ethos of the FOIA. This neglects the law's intent to facilitate public scrutiny and understanding of governmental functions.

Implications for Public Trust: The ICO's stance in this matter could erode public trust in the effectiveness and fairness of the FoI process. If a regulatory body like the ICO does not advocate for the rights of the public under the FOIA, it can create a perception of bias towards government bodies and against the public interest. This could deter individuals from pursuing legitimate FoI requests, weakening the democratic process of holding public authorities accountable.

Setting a Negative Precedent: The ICO's decision in this case could set a concerning precedent for future FoI requests. It might embolden public authorities to neglect their duty to assist requesters, potentially leading to a higher rate of refusals on technical grounds. This outcome would be antithetical to the FOIA's objective of promoting openness and could lead to a reduction in the overall effectiveness of the Act.

Potential for Judicial Review: The ICO's approach, if perceived as a failure to enforce the FOIA properly, could open the door for judicial review. This legal process could be pursued to challenge the ICO's interpretation and application of the Act, particularly regarding its enforcement of Section 16. Such an outcome would not only be costly but also damaging to the ICO's reputation as an impartial and effective regulator.

Gadawodd Amanda Hart anodiad ()

We are presently in the process of asking the ICO to correct its stance on the legally flawed instruction it gave to the Cabinet Office using a recent Tribunal decision as an example of what should in fact have happened EA/2022/0353.